The Age of Innocence is based on the novel by Edith Wharton, and is about a group of New York aristocrats. In a weird way it’s a companion film to Gangs of New York: its set about 20 years later, and is about the era of rich high society finding its way back to power. Director Martin Scorsese has said it’s his most violent film, and it certainly is emotionally violent. It is a brutal look at a man who learns that in the end he can never have what he wants.
It centres on a romance between Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and a Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfieffer). It’s a relationship that they know will never go anywhere. Archer’s wife is played by Winona Ryder. The acting is excellent, especially Lewis, who was always very picky about his film roles—although it’s one of his earlier roles, echoes of his performance can be seen in Phantom Thread. It was one of Ryder’s first adult role, a challenging role that she does very well in and got an Oscar nomination, bizarrely Day-Lewis didn’t.
It’s a beautiful-looking film as well as a critique of New York high society at that time. It’s a surprisingly experimental film, with some interesting shots that you would not expect from this kind of movie. For example, there’s a scene were the character is looking through binoculars, which is cut like Stan Brakhage. When Lewis and Ryder go to London and Paris on their honeymoon, he uses paintings rather than showing it directly. Bursts of colour that fade out are another technique used.
Obviously Scorsese was looking mainly at Barry Lyndon and Max Ophuls for inspiration. At the time it was released, The Age of Innocence gained mixed reviews but they were balanced towards positive. In the subsequent years, it has gained a great deal of acclaim and many consider it about Scorsese’s crowning achievements.
Scorsese is one of the masters of film narration, something he was initially deterred from using. He used words from the book to move the story along, with Joanne Woodward as the narrator. When it was released, people thought she was intended to be the author, but this was not the director’s intention.
Extras are mostly interviews with the director, the unfortunately named screenwriter Jay Cock, and some crew members. In addition, it includes a making-of documentary that was shown on HBO at the time.